Boy Scout Troop 17 of Millburn-Short Hills will see big changes in its leadership this year when Ken Fineran steps down after 36 years as troop scoutmaster. Fineran has been the scoutmaster for generations of the township’s scouts from 1979 to this year. He has been involved with scouting for 55 years, as a boy in East Orange, rising to the rank of Eagle Scout, while a student at Upsala College, and even while stationed with the Army in Panama. Fineran retired in 2001 as Claims Manager of the Special Investigations Unit of Allstate Insurance. In recognition of his service to the town, he was awarded this past Wednesday by the Millburn Township Committee with the Community Service Award. He was also recognized for his induction to the Eagle Scout Hall of Fame and for serving on the Millburn Fourth of July Committee and the Veterans Recognition Committee. Fineran is not going far – he will become the assistant scoutmaster of Troop 17.
Stepping up as scoutmaster will be Dan Cannon, currently communications lead and assistant scoutmaster. Cannon, a Brooklyn boy, grew up playing baseball and had no involvement with scouting. When his son Ryan joined the Cub Scouts, Cannon participated in many of the trips and meetings. When Ryan moved up to Boy Scouts, Cannon wanted to stay involved and saw the need for adult volunteers. He eventually became the assistant scoutmaster. Cannon works as the director of finance for Schindler Elevator and is active coaching his daughter’s baseball team. He looks forward to Fineran’s continuing mentorship when the men switch leadership positions. The third member of Troop 17's leadership triumvirate is Jim McKenna who is the troop committee chairman and charter organization representative. McKenna grew up in Millburn and rose from Cub Scout to Eagle Scout and was actually presented with his Eagle Scout badge by Fineran, the “only Scoutmaster I have known.” McKenna is the director of global operations and account management at Unisys.
Troop 17 was founded in 1945 and is chartered through St. Rose of Lima in Short Hills. There are currently 60 boys in the troop. Boy Scouts include boys from 11 to 18-years-old. Prior to that, they can be in Cub Scouts from the age of 7 to 10 and ½ year old. The scouts work towards Eagle Scout rank which must be attained by the age of 18. Nationally, 4 percent of boys who join scouts become Eagle Scouts. In Troop 17, there have been 100 Eagle Scouts, 84 since Fineran became scoutmaster. To become an Eagle Scout, a boy must earn 21 badges and complete a leadership project. There is a core curriculum of badges that are mandated. The leadership project is not a one-step job; the aspiring Eagle Scout must plan the project, submit the idea for approval, recruit volunteers to facilitate the project, fundraise, and oversee and supervise the execution of the project. When it is completed, the scout must summarize the project and submit the details to the Eagle Scout Board of Review for final approval.
The National Council of Boy Scouts issues charters to various institutions to be chartering organizations. As the local such organization, St. Rose provides a safe meeting place in the church basement every week, provides storage space and the church van, and hosts the annual Eagle Court of Honor meeting.
Troop 17 leaders stress that the intent of the Boy Scout program is to prepare young men to “make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the scout oath and law.” The scout oath includes the pledge to do one’s duty to “God and my country and to obey the Scout law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” Fineran explains that the scouting program allows young men to develop leadership skills and confidence and is also “lots of fun – but not just fun.” He opined that while many complain about today’s youth, he feels that those involved in scouting are “in a good gang, doing good work.” McKenna credits his Boy Scout background as having provided him with “tremendous benefits, including getting comfortable at public speaking.” The mistakes he made at 14 and 15 while in scouts, he could then correct, and this made him a stronger person in later years. His daughter is a Daisy Scout and his wife is a leader of the Girl Scout’s unit. Cannon appreciates the values that scouting instills in boys at a young age including survival skills and independence. He cites its teaching of first aid skills, camping, and family values. He became involved in the Boy Scouts because he does not want to be a “drop-off type of parent.” He wants to “make it work” regardless of his work and travel demands.
Membership in scouting is declining. There were 2.4 million scouts in 2014, which is down 7 percent since 2013. McKenna wishes that people would see the “value of scouting and that there be a resurgence.” There are challenges to the program. The education system is very competitive and there are many demands on children’s time. Sports coaches are not “terribly sensitive to the commitment scouting requires” and, therefore, scouting loses boys to sports. There is also the challenge of attracting more parents to leadership roles, many of whom cite their busy lives as restricting their involvement. Fineran stresses that both the boys and their parents can accomplish more if they sit down and do time management planning. He doesn’t want just “Joe Scout but a well-rounded person.”
The three scout leaders stress that the township has been on the receiving end of the Troop 17’s largesse. Many Eagle Scout aspirants’ projects involve service to the community, including tending to the shrubs at Saint Rose, assembling a rabbit hutch and bat house at the Cora Hartshorn Arboretum, painting the fence around the revolutionary war cemetery on White Oak Ridge Road, and building a fence around Greenwood Gardens. The scouts are also rewarded for their service and hours of commitment with fun trips that in 2016 will include one to Gettysburg.